By Jerrell Richardson
When Jim Harbaugh said that he would make a decision by Wednesday as to who the starting quarterback will be against the St. Louis Rams, and that he likes to go with the hot hand, he wasn’t lying. He announced Wednesday that he will stick with Colin Kaepernick, but continued to avoid a final decision. In fact when asked if Colin is the starter for just this week, or if he was going to be the quarterback for the rest of the year, Harbaugh replied, “I wouldn’t assume anything.” Despite Harbaugh’s tight lipped approach, the writing is on the wall, and if Kaepernick makes it three wins in a row, Alex Smith’s might as well pick up a clipboard and put down his helmet.
What has made the decision to start Kaepernick rather easy is who he has beaten and how he has performed in his rise to the top. At the start of his memorable run, Kaepernick was thrown into a game late in the first half against the St. Louis Rams. Kaepernick was clearly overwhelmed in his first real action, which is understandable considering he was not on the practice field with the first team during the week leading to the game . However, the team was struggling before he came in, so it’s not as though he took over an offensive unit that was clicking at the time. These facts, along with him being in just his second year, meant that he has not had very long to absorb the game plan, the system and his fellow teammates. So with all things considered, he played as well as to be expected in his first game, as he did enough to put David Akers in range to make a field goal that he is expected to make.
The next week, there was doubt as to who would be starting as Smith was still recovering from his concussion, so with Kaepernick practicing with the first-team in practice he was ready this time around. With Smith unable to play, under the big lights, and against the Chicago Bears, Kaepernick looked like a seasoned veteran. In a game that figured to be a defensive struggle, instead it was a San Francisco rout. The following week, he kept things going against the fast-rising New Orleans Saints, who, unlike the man-based defense of the Bears, run complex zone schemes designed to confuse quarterbacks. Kaepernick was again calm, cool and collected. In a very hostile environment, he outplayed the elite Drew Brees.
One More Test
It all comes full circle this week against The Rams, a team that Smith struggled against in his limited action in Week 10. The bad news for Smith is that Kaepernick can only come out on top after Sunday. If the team runs all over the Rams, which is very possible, then Smith is done. Even if Kaepernick struggles, the team would still need to start him the next week to see if his hot hand has actually cooled off, or if it was just a bad day.
The only reason to stick with Smith is if Kaepernick is a fluke, and with three games under his belt and one coming against a common opponent, there should be enough evidence to make a decision. Kaepernick has handled two very different defenses and there is really nothing else that he needs to do to show that he is the better man for the job other then handle the St. Louis Rams. Harbaugh said that Smith did nothing in his play to lose his starting job, but the reality is that Smith did nothing to keep it, so he will be better suited as a back-up. That is IF Kapernick is no fluke, which the team should be closer to answering after Sunday.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.